America’s port truckers have been getting screwed—which doesn’t exactly set them apart from the rest of the American working class, admittedly. But unlike most low-income workers, they have a chance to redress their unfair workplace conditions. This morning the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure is holding a hearing on the labor and environmental issues surrounding port trucking, and considering an alteration of federal law that could change everything.
Labor and environmental groups in support of reform have stepped up their lobbying as the hearing approaches. This week port truckers from both coasts have been flown into DC to solicit Congressional attention, while advocates from the Teamsters, The Sierra Club, and the Natural Resources Defense Council have provided support.
The lobbying truckers are hoping to convince Congress to approve the legislative fix being crafted by Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), who sits on the Transportation and Infrastructure’s Subcommittee on Highways and Transit. The yet-to-be-released proposal would empower local authorities to regulate trucking. Nadler expects to introduce his bill in weeks, if not days. It is unclear how contentious the bill will be, or how easy it will be to round up Republican support (environmental lobbyists I’ve spoken with seemed confident that they could recruit Republican congresspeople from New Jersey or Washington).
Due to the 1980 deregulation of the trucking industry, drivers are labeled independent contractors. That means they have to pay for their own trucks, gas, insurance and maintenance. (One study of Seattle-era drivers showed more than half their paychecks are eaten up by these expenses—expenses their employers handled before 1980.) To make matters worse, the drivers can only afford older, dirtier models, which have a horrific impact on air quality. (I've written about the problem here.)
Now the the fight has shifted to the halls of Congress, where reform advocates, including the ports of LA, Longbeach, and New York, and their allies are hoping to reform the trucking provision in the F4A law. The first steps begin in this morning’s hearing. I’ll have a follow-up post after the hearing with my perspective on how the Subcommittee reacted to the testimonies, particularly the Republican side.
But can an issue like this, which the Teamsters are actively lobbying for, escape the hyper-partisan gridlock currently suffocating DC?